Regardless of when the next German federal government is formed, one of its most important tasks will be setting the course for digital Transformation. The need for a high-capacity infrastructure with a well-developed broadband network is just as great as that to clarify legal issues regarding data protection, IT security, and contract and liability law.
Moreover, it is important to adapt school curricula and training. This is because the digitalized world of work requires new competencies and sound skills in information technology, as well as good ability to communicate and collaborate – increasingly in English. The introduction of a compulsory subject called “Digitalization and the economy” in schools throughout Germany, starting with pupils in the fifth grade, would be a major step.
Even quicker to implement would be the consolidation of responsibility for digitalization in one ministry with the aim of defining clear competencies and strengthening the ability to take action. It remains to be seen how modern the next cabinet will be.
More scope for the social partners
However, politicians’ main job is to identify the areas in which their intervention is standing in the way of progress. This is especially the case in shaping the world of work. Here it is the sole responsibility of industry. For a long time now, there have been signs to suggest that digitalization will lead to extensive differentiation in the world of work. Employees want to shape their jobs more to satisfy their individual requests and employers will also appeal for more flexibility.
Increasing the flexibility of working hours and locations
Making working hours (and locations) more flexible is one of the central topics we are discussing with our social partner the German Mining, Chemical and Energy Industrial Union (IG BCE) as part of our future of work dialogue. For employers, the aim of the dialogue is not longer working hours, but creating sensible rules that fit well with our new way of working.
Modern collective agreements…
Of course, even differentiation requires standards. Without a sufficient degree of reliability, the digital world of work will not be accepted by employees. Modern collective agreements can provide the necessary mix of protection and flexibility.
…in the interest of companies and employees
Several parties have recognized the opportunities presented by the topic of working hours and have already drafted proposals in their electoral programs. Increasing the flexibility of working hours within the framework of collective agreements, as suggested by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), would certainly facilitate modern working practices. The proposals of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) are also a step in the right direction. In a digital world of work, many tasks do not necessarily have to be performed at the company workplace during normal working hours. But this new flexibility also requires leeway when it comes to rest periods. Here, the collective bargaining parties should be granted a certain latitude that takes into account the mutual interests and above all protects employees’ health.
“It’s the social partners’ turn: We want to modernize working time legislation and take on more responsibility.”
Now it’s a matter of politicians opening the doors and allowing more room for experimentation.